Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, has achieved something truly remarkable in Indian politics. He’s been leading Odisha since 2000, and his uninterrupted reign has left both his supporters and critics amazed.
When he first entered politics after his father Biju Patnaik’s passing, many didn’t expect him to last long. People thought he might win an election because of his famous name and the sympathy after his father’s death, only to be voted out in the next round. But Patnaik proved them all wrong by uninterruptedly being the Chief Minister for 23 years and still continuing to serve in that capacity. What’s even more surprising is that he achieved this without being fluent in Odia, the local language.
In fact, he recently surpassed Jyoti Basu’s reign, becoming India’s second-longest-serving Chief Minister (CM) ever. Only Sikkim’s Pawan Chamling, who held the office for 24 years, is ahead. Experts argue that Patnaik may soon become the longest serving CM in India.
So, how did he manage to stay in power for so long?
Naveen Patnaik, who grew up outside Odisha and went to the prestigious Doon School, was more comfortable with English. He had a high-profile life, mingling with celebrities like Mick Jagger and Jacqueline Kennedy, and even appeared in a Hollywood movie. But then he entered politics, and it turned out he was a natural fit. Behind his polished and soft-spoken demeanor, he had a keen political mind. Over time, he became the unchallenged leader of Odisha and his party.
He is quite reserved and hard to reach, living alone in his impressive home called ‘Naveen Niwas.’ Despite various alleged scandals during his tenure, like unregulated chit funds and unchecked mining, Patnaik has managed to stay clear of suspicion. When necessary, he even let go of ministers, firing many of them to come clean.
Naveen Patnaik’s story is a fascinating one of a political journey that defied expectations, and his ability to maintain a clean image in a sometimes murky world of politics. It’s a tale worth exploring further to understand his enduring success.
Under his guidance, Odisha has made significant strides in various domains. Effective Disaster Management is one of the hallmarks of his tenure. Odisha is prone to cyclones, and the memory of the devastating 1999 super cyclone, which claimed thousands of lives due to a lack of information and preparedness, still lingers. However, Naveen Patnaik’s administration has made tremendous progress in handling such natural disasters. During Cyclone Phailin, they successfully evacuated approximately one million people from coastal areas, showcasing their ability to reduce human casualties. The United Nations even recognized and praised Naveen’s exceptional disaster management model.1
Furthermore, Odisha has emerged as a prime destination for investments, making it more Investment-Friendly. In 2015, the World Bank ranked Odisha 7th in “Ease of Doing Business” in India, indicating a favorable business environment.2 Numerous core companies and investors have acknowledged the state’s potential for financial investments, citing the conducive atmosphere for economic growth.
The state’s transformation is evident in its budget, as well. Over the years, Odisha’s annual budget has experienced substantial growth. From a modest Rs 1.77 crore in the year 1936-37, it has surged to an impressive Rs 1,20,028 crore in 2018-19. This financial growth underscores the state’s progress and the efficient management of its resources.3
In addition, the construction of essential infrastructure, like the Gurupriya Bridge and the Madhusudan Setu, has further exemplified Odisha’s commitment to development. The Gurupriya Bridge plays a vital role in enhancing internal security in India. Despite the risks associated with its construction, it stands as a significant achievement for the state. On the other hand, the Madhusudan Setu, which shortened the distance between Cuttack and Dhenkanal by over 16 kilometers, demonstrates Odisha’s dedication to improving connectivity and infrastructure.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik believed that, “Investment in sports is an investment in youth. Investment in youth is an investment in the future.” Under his leadership, Odisha transformed into India’s sports capital through a decade of dedicated efforts. The government invested heavily in sports, emphasizing that it’s an investment in the youth and the future. The state boasts exceptional sports infrastructure, notably the Kalinga Stadium and Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, making it a preferred destination for global sports events. Odisha became a global hub for hockey, hosting FIH events, and organized international competitions in football, table tennis, and more. They established High Performance Centers and extended support to multiple National Federations. Odisha’s exceptional sports infrastructure, like the Guinness-record Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, symbolizes its unwavering dedication to sports. This journey solidified Odisha’s status as a thriving sports hub in India.4
As Naveen Patnaik’s tenure as Chief Minister of Odisha unfolded, it wasn’t just about political boundaries, it was also his Gandhian Philosophy of non-violence. On March 23, 2021, the Odisha government made a significant move. They passed a resolution in the state Assembly to include the concept of non-violence in the Preamble of the Constitution. This decision was particularly special as it marked the beginning of a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s first visit to the state, which took place on March 23, 1921.5
The Odisha Assembly dedicated the morning session of its ongoing Budget Session to reflect on the rich legacy of Gandhi’s first visit to the state. What’s heartening to note is that members from various political parties came together to participate in this discussion. It was during this session that the Assembly unanimously approved the resolution to include the principle of non-violence in the Constitution’s Preamble. It showcases a commitment to preserving Gandhi’s legacy and the enduring importance of non-violence in our democratic fabric.
The unanimous passage of a resolution in the Odisha Assembly, seeking 33 percent reservation for women in legislative assemblies and Parliament6, underscores his unwavering commitment to gender equality in the State. Naveen Patnaik recognized that true progress and development are unattainable without the active participation of women in decision-making processes. His resolute dedication to ensuring that women are not just included but also heard in the highest echelons of power sends a powerful message to the rest of the country. By pushing for this significant legislative change, Naveen Patnaik has set a shining example of how Odisha is leading the way in empowering women and fostering their genuine involvement in nation-building. This landmark decision showcases his visionary approach to governance, firmly rooted in the principles of gender equality and social progress.
Overall, Naveen Patnaik’s leadership has been pivotal in propelling Odisha from a state struggling with natural disasters and underdevelopment to a dynamic and investment-friendly region. Other States can take inspiration from his work, Ministers, MLAs, MLCs can come together for discussion of good governance at events like National Legislator’s Conference, 2023. NLC provides a platform to learn and discuss initiatives for the collective development of Bharat. Disaster management, economic growth, and infrastructure development are necessary for a state’s progress, proving Naveen Patnaik’s Journey a compelling example of effective governance.